Figuring out the best way to take US dollars to America is sometimes a confusing and time-consuming process. With so much information out there, it’s easy to get sucked into a hole of research, and let it dampen your exciting holiday plans.
We’ve pulled together some advice on the different ways you can take your spending money to the States, which will hopefully make your holiday planning go a lot smoother.
You can opt to take the entirety of your dollars as physical cash, thus eliminating a big chunk of your travel money research. Most travel insurance policies cover the loss and theft of personal money, so you should be covered if either of those things happen.
We recommend keeping your cash in a safe place at all times, whether that be in a discreet travel money wallet, or in a safe back in your hotel room along with your other important documents. While you’re traveling, keep some of your cash on you in your hand luggage. That way, if your checked baggage is lost or delayed, you have some provisions to get you through those first few days.
Whether you’re taking some or all of your money as cash, it definitely pays off to shop around. You can use this handy tool on MoneySavingExpert to help find where near you is selling the best exchange rate, and obtain your US dollars for a cheaper price. We recommend taking a little bit of cash with you, in case you need to buy anything when you land and before you’ve had a chance to use a cashpoint. Some cards will also charge extra to use ATMs in America (something we’ll come onto in a bit) so if you want to avoid those costs, you might opt for a mixture of the two as well.
Travel Money Cash Passports/Currency Cards
These work by loading up a certain amount of dollars to a card, and then using it like you would a regular debit card. As you are effectively buying travel money, the advice we gave above about shopping around still applies here too. Most places will offer prepaid cards (as they are sometimes known), including most major supermarkets and the Post Office.
You usually lock in the exchange rate of the date you purchase the card, which means you don’t have to worry about fluctuating rates while on your trip - however, this can also be a negative thing too, if the rate improves, for example.
You can get multiple cards too, for other members of your travel party. Many of the cards now allow you to manage your card online as well, meaning you can top-up your card should you need to, while away.
Here are some industry recommended prepaid travel cards:
FairFX - Free to use, and the card is free when you load more than £50. When you’re back in the UK, you also earn 3.5% cashback every time you spend at selected high-street brands. However, there is a £1 ATM fee and the foreign exchange rate isn’t great.
Caxton - Free international ATM withdrawals, and you can check your transactions, top=up on the go and even block your card if you lose it, via the Caxton mobile app.
Revolut - Free international ATM withdrawals, however this has a limit of £200. Anything over this has a 2% fee. It’s easy to set up and use, with free load and unload with debit & credit card or bank transfers. However, you will get a 0.5% fee on the weekends applied to the exchange rate, as it’s outside Foreign Exchange market hours.
Post Office Money - This card comes with a handy mobile app which lets you top-up, check your balance and view recent transactions. However, if you have money left on your card a year after expiry, a £2 monthly maintenance fee applies.
For many travellers, these cards have been a go-to option for their trip to the states. However there are a few points to consider - you won’t always get the best exchange rate as you’ll have the companies’ exchange rate, not Visa or Mastercard. They also can have extra ATM fees (on top of the ones the actual ATMs charge), so if paying in cash, you may end up losing a notable amount of your balance. Finally, if you plan on hiring a car while in the USA, most car hire places won’t accept these prepaid cards. You will need a credit/debit card too.
Travel Credit Cards
The thought of taking out another credit card for your holiday may seem daunting, however if your credit score is good, it’s actually a completely viable option.
As you get your exchange rates direct from Mastercard or Visa, you will usually be getting the best rates of the day - and it also means that you’re not locking in any rates, so should the exchange rate get better for you while you’re away, you will benefit from this.
Unlike most debit cards (which usually have a range of fees for spending abroad) a lot of credit cards are designed for overseas spending, so have little-to-no fees for your American transactions. Many credit cards also have no ATM fees either, meaning you just need to pay what the ATM’s themselves are charging.
Typically, Mastercard has the best exchange rate, so if you’re going down the credit card route, try and go for a Mastercard one. Here are some travel credit cards that come highly recommended:
Tandem - no cash withdrawal fees for overseas ATMs, and no fees for overseas spending as long as you repay IN FULL. You also get 0.5% cashback when you spend at least £1 on the card abroad and in the UK, which can definitely all add up! This card is managed all via an app, which may put some people off. Like most credit cards, you will pay interest on cash withdrawals until you pay it off, so it’s best to do this straight away via internet banking, if you can.
Halifax Clarity - This Halifax card has been created especially for frequent travelers, as there is no exchange rate fee worldwide. There are no cash withdrawal fees, however you will pay interest until it’s repaid in full. Both this card and Tandem are issued by Mastercard, which generally has better exchange rate too.
Aqua - If your credit score is lower, this could be a great card for you. It’s also worth considering for a shorter trip and if you’re on a budget too, as the credit limits offered are low, from £250 - £1,200. It uses Mastercard too, and you also get 0.5% cashback on every purchase. If getting this card, this should mainly be used for spending and NOT cash withdrawals, as there is a 3% withdrawal fee and a high interest on cash withdrawals, even if you clear it in full straight away.
If you want to avoid getting a credit card, there are some debit cards which offer fee-free overseas spending. Here’s some top travel debit card recommendations:
Starling Bank - this is an app-based debit card which offers fee-free spending and withdrawals worldwide, and doesn’t have a full credit check (if you don’t request an overdraft). It’s Mastercard issued too.
Monzo Bank - another app-based bank, Monzo also has no fees for overseas spending or cash withdrawals, however these withdrawals are limited to £200 in any 30-day period. Also Mastercard issued, it does offer a £20 overdraft buffer, unlike Starling Bank.
We hope that’s helped to clear up some questions when it comes to deciding how best to take your travel money to the States, which can be a painful and time consuming process!
Let us know via our Facebook and Twitter channels if you think there is any advice that we’ve missed, and be sure to share your USA travel tips in our new travel Facebook community - the ATD Travel Community.